In the heady days when North Sea oil was gushing at a rapid rate, the small group that had set up a spiritual community on the North East coast was viewed by many as just a little bit off field.

It was 1982, the year Britain had, for the first time in its history, become an oil exporter, and the Findhorn group had announced they wanted to create a ‘Planetary Village’, a living example of how people could make sustainable use of the environment around them in an harmonious existence with nature and each other.

They already stood out from the crowd: 20 years earlier, husband and wife Eileen and Peter Caddy and their friend, Dorothy Maclean, had arrived with their caravan on the windswept shores of Findhorn Bay on the Moray Firth.

The spiritual community became the Findhorn Foundation, dedicated to “planetary service, co-creation with nature and attunement to the divinity within all beings”.

By 1970, their numbers had swelled to about 50 strong, with their off-grid way of life attracting some 500 visitors a year. As well as those seeking spiritual guidance, were others curious to see the odd ‘eco’ homes that had sprung up: such as some made from two large empty wooden whisky vats joined together, others like ‘hobbit’ homes with turf roofs and insulated with straw bales and tyres.

But in 1982, when most Scots were enjoying the benefits of North Sea gas and oil, the idea of a ‘planetary village’ with talk of harmony with nature, meditation and home-grown vegetables – said to be supersized thanks to being lovingly spoken to by the growers - and those odd houses, was sneered at by some as a relic of Sixties’ flower power and hippies.

These days though, the community based at The Park, on the fringes of Findhorn with its ‘good life’ vegetable patches, eco-homes and trio of electricity-producing wind turbines, seem more like futuristic visionaries.

Their ‘planetary village’ concept has come to the fore against a backdrop of a world that has torn through its natural resources; their gentle approach to living in tune with the world around them using wind power and living in homes designed to be naturally efficient, suddenly seems to make sense.

These days, the community remains at the forefront of energy innovation: its carbon footprint sits at 7.1 tons per person, lower than the UK average of 9.5 tons, and with a target to become carbon neutral by 2030.

With the world having caught up with the community’s innovative approach, many residents have already taken the next step and removed oil and bottled gas heating systems in favour of more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Such as Maggie La Tourelle, whose home at the heart of The Park has installed modern heating with air source heat pump at its heart and an air to air system which blows warm air into her room whenever she needs it.

The Herald: Maggie La Tourelle stands in the doorway of her Findhorn ecovillage homeMaggie La Tourelle stands in the doorway of her Findhorn ecovillage home (Image: Maggie La Tourelle)

Having installed it in her single storey home, she immediately saw her electricity bills cut in half: last month’s bill was just £62 but, she says, even that was a little higher than normal.

She can’t recall when her wood burner, a backup for heat, was last used.

“I get angry when people say heat pumps are no good, because that’s not true,” she  says. “You have to understand where and how they work best,” she says.

“The reason there are so many conflicting opinions about air source heat pumps is not to do with the pumps themselves, it’s to do with the insulation. Mine is incredible.”

Maggie, natural health care practitioner psychotherapist, arrived at The Park seven years ago for a complete change of lifestyle: she moved from the bustle of London’s Belsize Park, a stone’s throw from Hampstead Heath.

The community appealed to her on a spiritual level but also for its proximity to the sea; she grew up on the Ayrshire coast and yearned to be back beside the water.

While it’s pioneering use of renewable energy made it stand out: a 75kW Vestas wind turbine arrived in late 1988, a time when the idea of wind energy was regarded as a curiosity.

The community called it Moya, meaning spirit, wind and breath of God in the Sesotho language spoken in the landlocked African mountain kingdom of Lesotho. For 25 years it served as a constant symbol of the planetary village and its ecological dreams.

Having generated an estimated 2,346,288kW of electricity and supplied around 8 per cent of the community's requirements, it was  decommissioned in 2015 and three new turbines installed, boosting output from 75kW to 750kW – plenty to cover the community’s needs.

However, running Maggie’s wall mounted electric heaters was expensive, and her architect son, who lives in Norway, offered advice on a more efficient system inspired by life there.

Maggie set about installing the air source heat pump and, with underfloor heating not an option, added an inverter connected to an air to air heating system.

“It’s like when you walk into a big store you can feel the heat on your head,” she adds. “I have three ducts that blow air to the living spaces.”

Because the house is airtight, a mechanical ventilation heating retrieval system runs constantly and independent of the heat pump and air to air system. It pumps out ‘old’ air from the building and, as fresh air enters, heats it up.

“The lovely thing about air to air heating system is I turn up the thermostat and within a second warm air is blowing in and circulating,” she adds.

Years ahead of its time back at the beginning, almost 130 ecological buildings have been constructed in The Park at Findhorn to rigorous ecological standards. Some have gone on to fit solar PV panels, ground source heat pumps and air source heat pump systems similar to Maggie’s.

Many of the newer properties are built to passivhaus standards, making them ultra-low energy and highly efficient, with solar features and two and a half times the insulation required by Scottish building regulations.

The community has continued to experiment with innovative, energy-efficient construction systems: some properties feature a ‘breathing wall’ which eliminates the need for a vapour barrier and allows the fabric of the building to interact with the indoor climate.

And the Soillse Ecovillage Project is a six house carbon neutral co-housing project within the Findhorn Community, with triple glazed and super-insulated homes that feature their own biomass district heating system and compost toilet.

More recently, the East Whins co-housing neighbourhood introduced 20 passive solar design, highly insulated houses, while the community was among the first to adopt a car pool system: its fleet includes electric vehicles powered by the ecovillage’s three windmills.

The Herald: A resident of Findhorn Foundation's Park Ecovillage loads horse manure to be used in a permaculture garden A resident of Findhorn Foundation's Park Ecovillage loads horse manure to be used in a permaculture garden (Image: Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images)

Two years ago, coinciding with the community’s 60th anniversary, it received almost £270,000 from the Scottish Government’s £500m Just Transition Fund, set up to support initiatives in the North East and Moray in the transition to net zero.

The funds are being used to further explore the shift from conventional housing to net zero – putting the village's experiences at the centre of the debate over how Scottish homes might make the shift from reliance on gas and oil to cleaner energy.

It fits nicely with the vision of the community’s original founders, Eileen Caddy.

“You are living in the new where no books of knowledge have been written, where there is no pattern to follow,” she once said.

“There is nothing hard or fast or cut and dried about this life. You can not tell from one day to the next what is going to happen.

“This is the most thrilling and exciting time; whole new vistas keep opening up.

“The unknown is becoming known.”